Commercialising creative work is a tight rope many artists never really master. There is so much to consider, often we fear that value we place on our work presumptuous, or worse arbitrary, a number we pull out of thin air to justify the hours we’ve spent slaving away. It especially so for spoken word poets, the only ‘living’ sub-genre of an art that many swear is dying. But in Nigeria spoken word is alive, and thriving and the new generation of spoken word poets are invading spaces formerly denied to them, and performing at presidential inaugurations. So it comes really as no surprise that Wana Udobang, one of the biggest champions of our new spoken word renaissance is taking a leap into the void with her sophomore spoken word album, In memory of Forgetting.
A sophomore album is a precarious place to inhabit, especially for a Spoken Word poet like Udobang whose work is best experienced in person, and whose debut album was critically praised. Udobang approaches this new challenge the same way she has her entire career, with unfettered vulnerability and a willingness to take on uncomfortable truths.
While the album’s poems are loosely strung together by a common thread of themes of feminism, strained relationships between mothers and daughters, assault, the complexities of marriage in a patriarchal society and the universality of the female experience, it is not a concept album, and perhaps should not be consumed as one. Each poem is a complete puzzle, that alludes to other concepts and references other artists, building on the labour of others to reach you, the listener. A great example of this is “This Is Not A Feminist Poem”, a poem that has been part of Udobang’s repertoire for the last two years, and draws from the concept of René Magritte’s 1929 painting “The Treachery of Images”, that suggest that the our perception of a thing should not be mistaken for fact, and asks us to always investigate our assumptions. Udobang does the same on “This Is Not A Feminist Poem”, outlining the hypocrisies that keep women oppressed in our ‘progressive’ society.
Other poems in the oeuvre are more personal, like “Still Birth” that conjures a twilight conversation between an elderly woman and her young protege and gives us this inspired line ‘When the pain gets too heavy, make sure you spit it out’, “Dear Father” that is an impassioned address to the absentee fathers and “Dorathy” inspired by Udobang’s own mother and featuring Cat Mayel, one of the album’s two guest features. The other is spoken word superstar and Udobang’s long time collaborator Titilope Sonuga, and the poem “Open Letter” the album’s most traditional.
In Memory of Forgetting revolves almost entirely around the resilience women, their triumphs and struggles, their trauma and epiphanies, but its brightest moments are its most ordinary. Udobang extolls the intimacy of a conversation with the same care she does the violence of assault. She reminds us, it is all important.
Listen to In Memory of Forgetting here.
Edwin eats his rice and cabbages. Tweet at him@edgothboy